RIP Belle the Basset, my sweet girl


Belle, napping next to Logan on the long drive from Va to Ky in 2010.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who writes an obit or tribute for their pet, we’re not supposed to grieve for our animals like we do for other people, but here I am. I’ve mentioned Belle before,…a few times... and it strikes me now how, even two years ago, I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

I guess this isn’t so much an obit or a tribute as it is a rambling of the compulsive thoughts I’ve been having the last few days. I thought maybe if I write them they’ll stop circling in my head. Stop keeping me up at night. Stop making me cry when I see her paw print in the mud or someone walking their basset down the street.

Maybe this will help.

Logan’s most recent family portrait, drawn about a month before Belle’s death. It features all four of us, under a giant sun and sea of hearts, with flowers all around. Logan drew this to be the art on his insulated mug he uses for his school lunch.

Without Belle, I was completely outnumbered by the penises in this house. She helped keep the estrogen-testosterone balance in check. Belle had a crush on Tony Bourdain, too, and loved a good, sappy, RomCom.

She was my girl.

Belle’s passing has hit me much more profoundly than I could have ever anticipated. She passed away six days ago; it has taken all six days for me to be able to write her name or talk about her without immediately choking up.I still choke up, it just takes a few more seconds.

I miss my girl.

A lot.

Belle giving kisses to her beloved boy in Feb 2010

She was only 3.5. Bassets are supposed to live to 10 or 13. We knew she’d never make it to 13–she had too many underlying chronic health conditions. She had a super-sensitive stomach that tolerated only two kinds of dog food–the really expensive kind, or the homemade kind. One of her legs was longer than the other from a break that wasn’t tended to as a puppy, when she was used as a bait dog for dog fighting in central Idaho. She had a bad hip and allergies. But she wasn’t supposed to die so young. We don’t know what went wrong and by the time we realized she was in serious trouble it was too late to do anything but put her out of her misery. In normal Belle fashion, she picked the exact worst time to start showing symptoms–Friday of a three day holiday weekend. It was Tuesday before the vet was open. And it was Wednesday that we euthanized her.

The vet saw her Tuesday night, said she’s probably not going to make it but here, try this combo of drugs and see if maybe, maybe, it works. She should start feeling better immediately if the drugs are going to work. She didn’t. The next day she crawled off to die in a bush and it took me an hour to find her. She was done. She wanted to die. But I wasn’t about to let my girl die in the bushes. I loved her too much.

I picked her up and carried her back in the house, placing her next to the couch.

She put her head on the couch and sighed. She didn’t have it in her to get up.

Belle

So I picked her up again, laid her down on the couch, and got her a blanket. I cuddled with her for the next few hours, telling her what a good dog she is, telling her about my favorite times with her, telling her it is OK if she has to leave us, that we’ll miss her deeply but will understand.

Logan telling Belle what a good girl she is

She held on until Logan got home from school. Then he joined me on the couch with Belle, petting her and telling her about his favorite times with her and how much he loves her. How much he is going to miss her.

My Belle came in to my life when I really, really needed her. I’d just returned to a big empty house after visiting my husband several states away. Logan, then 4, had decided he wanted to stay with his dad, which meant I was completely alone.

I don’t know what exactly possessed me to do a petfinder search for a bassethound in Idaho, but I am so glad I did. I drove something like 200 miles with my mom to get Belle and bring her home. On a professor’s salary, with two house payments (Matt’s in Va and mine), two grocery bills, two sets of utilities (you get the idea) I had to make monthly payments towards Belle’s adoption fee. …That first night she slept on my husband’s side of the bed that had been empty for eight months.

I’ve had a lot of dogs over the years, but none have been as human as Belle. There were times I looked at her and just knew she got it. She’d been there. She was an old soul. She was sent here to help me, help us, get through our troubles.

It was Belle that tucked herself in next to me when I cried myself to sleep, night after night, from worry over my never-ending cancer screening and biopsy tests a few months later. My husband and son were two time zones away,unable to be there for me. But Belle was.

When we were reunited with my husband and son in Virginia, Belle immediately took to being The Other Mother for Logan, insisting on being the physical barrier between him and the stairs, or cars, or any potential threat.

Belle decided she was my nurse and kept watch over my cast (in the background)for more than a week

It was Belle who stayed tucked in bed beside me for a week while I healed from my grade-3 ankle sprain and began physical therapy.

And it was Belle who never left my side when I came home from the hospital after staying a week there for salmonella. And when I came home from surgery two months later? Again, it was Belle who refused to leave me alone, who insisted on being there next to me to take some of the pain away.

Belle on bedrest with me

It was Belle that showed Logan exactly where all the Easter Eggs were hidden by sniffing out the Easter Bunny’s tracks in the yard, running from egg to egg in the exact reverse order they were placed. And it was Belle who was too curious about the glue mouse traps around the house and ended up wearing them as earrings off her long, droopy basset ears.

Belle running away with Logan’s glove that she pulled off his hand

And it was Belle who thought it was funny to pull Logan’s gloves off his hands and run around in the snow playing keep away. Actually, we all thought that was pretty funny.

When we moved to the farm last summer you could tell Belle had found her Heaven with all the rabbits to chase and acres to roam. Belle loved barking at the neighbor’s cows, herding the chickens and playing with the goats and alpacas. She would never have wanted to leave. Now she doesn’t ever have to.

I can’t walk by the living room now without looking on the couch, expecting to see her. I can’t go down the stairs without first expecting to have to move her off the top one to make room for my foot. I can’t turn around in the kitchen without first looking behind me, expecting her to be laying on her rug, waiting to trip me and spill some of whatever I’m making so she can sample it.

Stairs: the perfect place to wait for your family to come back down.

This weekend while I was having coffee on the back patio with Matt, the white and brown easter egger chicks came running around the corner of the garage. Out of the corner of my eye, it looked like Belle coming for us.

I want my girl back.

After we put Belle down at the vet, Logan said, “Mom, when I get to Heaven I’m going to ask everyone there if they’ve seen my dog, Belle.”

He misses his Belle, too.

I think it would be easier if she had passed peacefully, but she didn’t. We took her to the vet to put her out of her misery. We had prepped Logan–who wanted to be there with her until the very end–that she would get a shot and drift off to sleep and never wake up. She wouldn’t be afraid or feel pain. But that’s not what happened.

Something went wrong with the injection. Belle sat up, yelped this blood-curdling series of howls of agony, pawed at me, Logan and the vet, panicked. She was fighting it, terrified and in more pain than she had been in just laying on the couch. It seemed like it took forever for her to pass away. It was traumatic and horrific to witness.

I wish I had just let her stay in the bushes. Or on the couch under the blanket. I don’t think I can ever forgive myself for the way she died. She deserved better than that.

I have to pass Belle’s grave every morning on the way to the barn to let the chickens and alpacas out. Every morning I tell Belle how sorry I am. Sorry we couldn’t save her, sorry she had to pass the way she did. I was only trying to make her death easier, not harder, and I’m so, so sorry it went so horribly wrong.

But today I can write this without crying. I might even make it the whole day without crying. I almost did yesterday. I know it will get easier, it will just never be the same.

I’d like to think that Belle was in our lives for the exact time we needed her; that her purpose was to get me, get us, through the most stressful and difficult hardships we’ve ever faced. And she did that. We’re worlds better than we were three years ago, two years ago, one year ago. We’ve emerged. And it would have been so much harder without Belle there to cuddle, cry on and play with.

RIP, Belle, my sweet girl. Logan’s already made plans for making your “Lost” posters in Heaven.  We miss you so very, very much.

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10 thoughts on “RIP Belle the Basset, my sweet girl

  1. Oh Candace, I’m so sorry. We get such precious few years with our pets and it’s just not fair when even that short time is cut shorter. I don’t even want to think of the day when we will have to say goodbye to our own sweet girls. You did an amazing thing by rescuing Belle, and she had a wonderful life with you and Matt and Logan. Try to remember the great times spent with her by your side instead of the painful ones near the end. Take care.

  2. Belle knows you loved her. That’s why she took such good care of your family. Many years ago we had a cat who was attacked by three homeless dogs. My husband went outside to see what had happened and Lambchop tried to crawl towards the sound of his voice. We couldn’t just throw her away like garbage. We secretly buried her in the bushes of a nearby church. We have owned two other cats since then. So cry all you want and know what a good deed you did by loving your pet. One day you will want to pass that kindness on to another animal.

  3. Thank you for giving her such a wonderful life and you have such really good memories of the love your family shared with Belle. I believe that when we die our departed pets will be waiting for us and we won’t have to look for them, they will be watching out for us, just as they did while they were still on earth.

  4. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling this loss–that goes to show you cared so much about her. Also, take comfort that she is no longer suffering and is now at peace. I found myself tearing up as I was reading what you wrote. I have a crazy cat with all kinds of health problems and have had several close calls with her. Love for pets is so simple and deep. They never let you down, betray you, or hurt your feelings, they just give unconditional love. Something I’ve found that helps with the grieving process is performing some rituals to mark the passing. I’ve held cat funerals/wakes before! I think we need them, just like we do with our human friends/family. Take care as you mourn your Belle!

  5. Wow, this really hit home for me, I have 3 dogs that I have been through the best and worst times of my life and I couldn’t imagines my life without them. Belle is in dog heaven now, having the time of her life and you guys will reunite one day in heaven, I just know it. If dogs don’t go to heaven then I don’t want to go! Thank you for sharing this intimate part of your life…..

  6. Wow this was such a sweet and honest tribute. We just loved our beloved Halla on Sunday. I cried more than I ever could have imagined those first 2 days. This coming from someone who claims not to be a “cat person!” They are absolutely members of the family and there are daily reminders in every corner of the house they’ve left their paw prints on. I try to remember one of my favorite quotes when I get blue about missing Halla, who was 9 when she passed. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

  7. Candace, I just read this and got teary. I remember when my cat Frankie got sick a couple years ago and eventually had to be put to sleep, the vet reminded me of the good life I had provided for her and that those years shouldn’t be forgotten. You and your family certainly provided a good life for Belle, and this is a fitting tribute to her as a member of your family.

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